1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Weak scene syndrome

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by OurJud, Sep 21, 2015.

    My characters (on a road trip) have lost all their funds and so call on the cousin of the secondary character. She lives out in the sticks in a house built by her husband who works in the building / construction business.

    The idea was to call on her in the hope of simply borrowing money, but the idea all seems a bit flat now.

    I need to spice up the scene, but I'm drawing a blank on ideas. To have them simply arrive, borrow money and then leave, all seems very 'meh'.

    I did consider having the secondary character find a safe in the house, and robbing them, but couldn't think how he would open the thing, and also the fact that this is his cousin would mean it would be too easy for the police to track them down.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2015
  2. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    Maybe the money is stolen? Or simply fake? And they end up in bigger trouble than before?

    Or they stumble across a violent scene between the cousin and her husband? But then decide not to intervene, and simply leave with the money and a guilty conscience?
     
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  3. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This may have some scope. Thanks.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "My characters (on a road trip) have lost all their funds"

    I assume there is a reason for this hurdle? What the reason is should help you with the solution.
     
  5. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, not sure I understand?

    The reason for the hurdle is that money is a fairly vital commodity for a road trip, so taking it from them creates a problem.

    Their immediate and current goal, therefore, is to somehow find funds in order to continue.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Here's the issue, if you are going to throw roadblocks up for your characters, or put them through hell, it should be something that moves the story forward, not just Pollyanna hurdles*.

    So is losing the money a Pollyanna hurdle or something that moves the story forward?


    Pollyanna hurdles have a purpose, by the way, but they wouldn't likely be the ones you are writing about.
     
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  7. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree. Don't manufacture drama for the sake of it. If they need money and it's convenient to stop at the cousin's house, get them in and out and on with life. If there's a story purpose for drama there, only then does it make sense to add it. Hell, you could even have the whole thing take place off-screen if it's trivial enough.

    The last thing you want is to turn your story into a soap opera. Unless, of course, you're trying to write a soap opera. Then do that :)
     
  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, well. And there's me thinking things were going quite well.

    Just excuse me while I go and delete every word of my novel.

    So what's all this bollocking advice you hear in 'story arc' and seven-point plot templates about 'creating problems for your characters'. The whole advice is to throw road blocks in their path, so that's what I did???

    Besides, I don't really do 'plots'. I have no interest in plots. Plots smlots. It's just a damn journey.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2015
  9. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't speak for @GingerCoffee, but I've never been an advocate of forcing problems where they don't fit. Unsurprisingly, it comes out sounding forced. The way you've described the situation, it doesn't sound like any drama really makes sense in this scene, unless there are things going on that you haven't shared here.

    Everything in a story needs to be deliberate, otherwise, why waste time showing us? If there's a conflict at the cousin's house, that conflict should be important. It should matter to the overall story. Maybe something done in the scene comes back later, to some significance? But if it's just drama for the sake of drama, I don't see much value in it. Hence my suggestion of possibly taking care of it off-screen.

    However.

    Significant scenes don't have to have drama in them. You could have a perfectly calm scene at the cousin's house, but write it in such a way that the reader gleans certain knowledge from it--story-relevant knowledge--that he or she didn't have before. Maybe have the cousin take out an item that has plot significance, maybe a Chekhov's gun that comes back later. Maybe the cousin reveals some family history that matters a few chapters down the road.

    Or maybe it just makes more sense for the party to get money another way.

    You know your story best. You know what events are coming up (or, if you don't, you likely have some vague idea of where it's going). Only you know what elements are important and what aren't. As a reader, though, I can say with full confidence that I'm not a fan of time-waster scenes. Whether the scene has tons of drama or no drama, if it's story-relevant I'll be interested, but if it's filler, well, then, it's filler, domestic abuse or no domestic abuse.
     
  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    None of my scenes 'matter to the overall story'. They're just part of the journey.

    I'm going to stop now, as I'm not in the best frame of mind. I'm not thinking straight and the advice isn't sinking in.

    I'll just say this: don't read any Hunter S Thomson.
     
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  11. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, you're more than entitled to disagree. That's the great thing about this forum--there are as many opinions on writing as there are members. Only you know your story well enough to decide what's really best for it.
     
  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, sorry if my reply sounded off or ungrateful. I'm very easily discouraged if my head's not in the right place... and it's not.
     
  13. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not at all, it's good to have different perspectives!
     
  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @OurJud: By all means read this later when you are in a better mood and maybe more interested in what I might have to say.

    I think you misunderstand my questions. No one is saying throw your story out or don't put your characters through hell. Of course you want stuff to happen. It's just that that story arc needs grounding. (I'm not much for the structure beyond story arcs that some writers advocate. Plot points work for some writers but not for me.)

    You should be able to say what the story is you are telling. It need not be profound, it can be as basic as entertainment. What does your character start out as and how does s/he change, or does s/he not change? Or are you writing a mystery or thriller where the events are more of the story than the character?

    Sherlock Holmes doesn't grow as he solves the mystery, he entertains as the puzzle unfolds. Harry Potter grows up, comes of age. Pollyanna teaches others about things that have real value in the world. Lord of the Flies is a story about human nature and it's not pretty.

    So what is the story you are telling? Guy goes on a trip and encounters trouble? Or???
     
  15. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a simple cat and mouse if it's anything, but the whole outlook is changing from the one I wrote as the outline. Originally, the cat would eventually catch up with the mouse (mice in this case), and the mice would triumph.

    But now, as I've been writing, things have changed direction and I'm not even sure the mouse is going to make an appearance.

    Well, that's not strictly true. The set-up kind of guarantees he will show up eventually, but I'm no longer sure it's going to pan out as per the outline.

    You see, I make no secret of the fact that my writing is greatly influenced by HST's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and in that book a journalist and his 300 lb Samoan attorney embark on a drug-fuelled road trip across America (under the understanding that the MC covers a couple of events - a desert race and an anti-drugs conference). And that's it. There's no real growth in the characters by the end of the book. They just spill from one event to another and each scene only moves the story forward in the sense that it simply takes place.
     
  16. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Don't get discouraged @OurJud - perhaps you're writing something with a different goal to the usual plot-driven MC-develops-as-a-person piece. I've not read HST, but maybe your piece revolves around setting or theme rather than plot or characters. You can certainly make an impact by showing 'meaningless' plots and characters who don't change (e.g. Seinfeld).

    Maybe your appeal to the reader is 'forget the destination, just enjoy the journey' - in which case a series of disconnected episodes might be fine if they're written entertainingly. Although I think you'd need some sort of goal in mind if you'll ever finish without just petering out. It sounds like you have ideas for an ending, even if they're not set in stone. If the plot connection is thin, can you somehow link the ending thematically to preceding scenes?

    George R.R. Martin comes off as fairly plotless to me (others may argue). Seems like a fairly random collection of horrible people doing awful things to each other (there are hints that a few plot 'plot seeds' will germinate, but nothing yet). Hugely popular though, and I find it entertaining enough.

    If you're influenced by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, what is it that appeals? What sticks in your head when you think back on it? Why? Is there an undercurrent that connects the disparate scenes, even if it's subtle and arguable? How does it end? How do you feel about the ending? Does it resolve anything?

    This thought process might help you clarify your own objective - what is the overall feeling or thought you want to communicate to the reader? If you're worried by advice that seems to contradict your approach, it might be because you've not come to grips with your overall goal yet. The advice and your story may both be good, but perhaps they don't suit each other. Knowing your goal inside-out will help you identify when this is the case.

    Haven't intended to offend any previous posters - I can see common ground, so hopefully none taken.
     
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  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    OK, we have a good place to start.

    Take a look at the Wiki entry about Fear and Loathing and pay attention to theme
    and plot.
    It might seem like Fear and Loathing was little more than a drug crazed trip a couple of characters take.

    Consider:
    Imagine where Thompson's head was writing this book.

    Gonzo Journalism
    Are you that person? That's hard to pull off, but it doesn't mean you can't.

    More analysis.
    So, if your plot is akin to this, consider ways the action reveals things about society, or your character's inner demons, or whatever else you choose. But choose something, have a direction.

    Thompson's life chose his character's direction. I know people like him, they were just crazy enough to pull it off.

    But you don't have to be that crazy (or maybe you are, I don't know). But you still need a direction your long strange trip will take.

    Find that direction and your events surrounding the lost funds might find it's place in the action.
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The missing funds could reveal things, speaking from an experience I had when I was credit card rich but cash poor in Peru. Who pays attention to stupid credit card pin numbers? I never do. And I figured I could just get cash from the gazillion cash machines or the banks with my credit cards so I used up all my traveler's checks. I mean, why not, I'd had the stupid things since a trip I'd taken more than a decade earlier. No one uses traveler's checks anymore.

    But using credit cards in the US is different from using them in Peru. No pin number, no cash. Probably the same in the US, I'm not in the habit of getting cash with credit cards. OK, fine, I'll go to a bank. Except, I go by Ginger and that's the name on my cards. Everyone in the US accepts it's short for Virginia. But in a foreign country when your passport says Virginia, it won't cut it.

    Every place I went they sent me to someone else. Not that the next place could help but it got me out of their hair.

    I finally got some cash, but that's not important. If I were going to write a story about the event, it would be about everything that can go wrong will go wrong, about how people tell you anything to get rid of you, and about the things one doesn't foresee when one is out of one's pond.

    Your story will differ, of course, (feel free to use my dilemma if any of it suggests ideas for you). Think about what elements the lack of funds can reveal about your characters, or society, or irony, or the curse of bad luck, or ????
     
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  19. Shadowfax
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    I'm waiting for the next episode where @GingerCoffee reveals what Coffee is a secret name for!

    To the OP, @OurJud , how about creating a mini computer game problem:

    MC goes to cousin for cash
    Cousin is broke, on point of being foreclosed.
    MC decides to help by raffling off some goods they found on the road
    so, they get the money
    Police turn up because the goods contained some drugs
    Now, they need the money they've just raised to make bail...
    etc.
     
  20. Mckk
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    What I don't get is, why would the cousin just fork out the cash for your characters' road trip? Is the trip of particular importance that the cousin would be inclined to even lend the money? Your characters could fabricate a story in order to get as much money from the cousin as possible, justifying it by telling themselves they'd return it all later anyway. And then it's a matter of when/if the cousin finds out, betrayals etc.
     
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  21. jannert
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    It seems a bit fortuitous that your characters lose their money, and lo and behold, a cousin lives nearby. Has this cousin been mentioned before, in terms of a plan for them to visit her? Or even plans to NOT visit her because even though they'll be nearby, they don't like her? Or is it "Gee, I have a cousin who lives nearby. Maybe we can get money out of her?"

    In other words, if you pull a solution out of the hat that seems too easy or coincidental you might have problems with your story's believability.

    As far as the cousin forking over the money, I agree with @Mckk ...this also needs some foundation. Is this cousin notoriously generous? Or maybe the cousin owes the family something? It sounds as if there is no love lost here, so work on motivation as hard as you can. It's worth the effort, because it will make things connect for your reader. If every time your characters have a problem some solution just pops up, that's not going to work very well, even if it creates more problems. Unless, of course, that's the point you're making—that solutions are never as easy as they appear? :)
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I've come across "weak scene syndrome" a few times. It was because I was so focused on making something happen that I forgot about the conflict/tension. Once I'd taken a step back and asked how I could make the situation more tense, even if exactly the same things happened, it got much better.

    I really liked @rainy_summerday's idea of them walking in on a big conflict, and then having their own inner conflict about how involved they get. Presumably if they intervene, cousin's husband will refuse to give them the money, so there's a lot at stake for them. Sounds like a good scene to me.
     
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  23. Australis
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    Australis Active Member

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    How about they steal from the cousin.
     
  24. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, everyone.
     
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  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I haven't read all the advice yet. I usually answer first and then find I'm behind somehow. Lol. But if I have a weak scene I usually try to figure out what I'm trying to do with the scene in the first place. Expand the plot or expand the characters.
    I don't really plot either. I know how the story goes per say in my head but the stops along the way are pretty spontaneous. Some scenes or paragraphs of exposition are purely for fun more character based than plot based.
    My main issue would be what can I do - and will it require a follow up? A follow up scene or mention later on would become part of the plot and require more thought. But just something for fun - like say they show up and the cousin has become a nudist requiring them all to get naked - that wouldn't necessarily require a follow up. It would just be a fun scene.
    It all depends on what you're going for.
     
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